Self discusses ‘Let’s just win today’ approach in modern recruiting

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas head coach Bill Self stands on the baseline in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma State, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas coach Bill Self was asked on his “Hawk Talk” radio show Monday night if he would rather recruit a five-star one-and-done player or a three-star prospect whom he could develop at KU for four or five seasons.

The answer wasn’t surprising — “A five-star stud that’s guaranteed to be a pro in one year? I’d take the pro every day, and pros help you recruit other pros” — but the subsequent reasoning shed light on how Self views the current college basketball recruiting landscape.

He said that in the era of the transfer portal, which allows any team the opportunity to acquire experienced upperclassmen on a year-by-year basis, college basketball has collectively decided “Let’s just win today, and then we’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow,” an approach of which he said, “I’m not sure this is great.”

If you recruit a freshman who isn’t ready to contribute right away, he said, “then go out and get a junior or senior from another school and then maybe they can help you win more … You win more, it’s easier to recruit, and then you go get another junior or senior from another school.”

He clarified that while he still thinks multi-year “program guys” are important, they don’t have as much impact on winning in a given year in the early stages of their development.

He pointed to current freshman Jamari McDowell, who came in as a four-star recruit out of Manvel High School in Texas. Even with a lack of scholarship players on this year’s team, McDowell has been at the fringes of KU’s tight rotation and is averaging just over two minutes per game since the start of conference play.

Kansas guard Jamari McDowell (11) hangs for a shot against Oklahoma State during the second half on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Kansas guard Jamari McDowell (11) celebrates with Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) during a timeout in the first half on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Self had said prior to the season that he felt McDowell could develop into a Travis Releford type of player, but that his role as a freshman would need to center on rebounding, defending and taking care of the ball. Releford, of course, was at KU five seasons in all. He came off the bench his first two years — with a redshirt year in the middle — before developing into a regular starter with a versatile skill set, including on the 2012 Final Four team.

“Jamari’s going to be a good player,” Self said Monday. “But Jamari probably isn’t ready to have the role that he would want to have, just like Darnell Jackson, or just like every other kid that’s come through here for the most part.”

Self suggested that the model of multi-year development is going by the wayside — not just because coaches want to sign first-year players who can contribute immediately, “a Gradey Dick as a freshman, Ben McLemore or Kelly Oubre,” but because projecting development three years into the future is often futile in the portal era.

photo by: AP Photo/Mitch Alcala

Kansas’s Gradey Dick shoots a layup in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas guard Ben McLemore roars after dunking against Texas during a comeback run by the Jayhawks late in the second half on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) looks to save a ball knocked out of bounds off the opening tip on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

“I don’t think we do that as much as what we used to,” Self said. “We used to recruit that way, but you got to understand, (in the past) the guys that were sophomores, when they were freshmen, they didn’t leave because of the transfer portal. So now everything’s changed … You just get the best you can, whatever your team needs.”

The Jayhawks saw the transient nature of modern college rosters firsthand last offseason when eight of their players decided to transfer (one, Zach Clemence, ultimately returned), including all three remaining freshmen they had recruited the previous year (besides Dick, who went to the NBA Draft). In terms of scholarship players, only KJ Adams, Dajuan Harris Jr. and Kevin McCullar Jr. have actually played for KU in consecutive years.

Only as soon as the Jayhawks conclude their season following the NCAA Tournament will it then become clear whether they face a similar level of turnover entering the 2024-25 campaign.